Originally, Juneau’s high school graduation ceremonies were scheduled for this coming Sunday. Of course, the pandemic closed schools in March and dashed plans for big gatherings. So school officials pivoted to appointment-based, individual graduation ceremonies that began Monday and wrap up Friday.
Graduation Day 1 is underway at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. There’s a stage decked out with the school’s red and black colors, but the school is mostly empty. The telescoping gym bleachers are folded up. A team of photographers and a few school staff who usher the grads through are between appointments.
“Pomp and Circumstance” is playing on repeat. They’ll be listening to it for six hours at a time over the next three days.
The class of 2020 is walking the stage and getting their professional photos done here, in a socially distanced way: One grad and their short list of up to four guests at a time.
Jade and Maya Araujo are twins. They were the first of about 130 graduates to walk the stage. Outside the high school after their shared ceremony, Jade said this was the next best thing to traditional graduation with her friends.
“We’re just glad to even have a setup to graduate,” Jade Araujo said. “It’s really exciting and we’re really happy that we can graduate, at least, together.”
“I just think this whole thing feels very surreal,” said Maya Araujo. “Like, part of the fact that, like, it’s kind of a weird situation that we’re in, and also because we’re graduating. But, I don’t know it felt really good to walk across the stage.”
A passing driver spots the twins in their caps and gowns and fires off a celebratory staccato of horn blasts. There’s a lot of that this afternoon.
Maya plans to go to UCLA in the fall. Jade plans to go to Stanford.
Paula Casperson is the school’s principal. She said she knows the class of 2020 has had a lot of heartache and sacrificed a lot, but that they’ve shown resilience and flexibility.
“And never again will I complain about several hours in a gym on a Sunday when it’s hot shaking hands, because I really wish I could hug the kids and high five them and, you know, that they were here to watch one another,” Casperson said.
Thunder Mountain High School has a similar game plan for their 141 graduates this week. And so does Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School. Its 38 graduates have appointments Friday at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kale.